Word Count: 1200
Season: pre-series; a mild spoiler or two for "Sateda"
Summary: A boy makes a choice; his parents have other ideas.
On a low wall beside Chieftain's Pond, the boy lay full-length, a sketchbook propped up on his knees and charcoal stick in hand.
Across the pond, courting lovers strolled arm-in-arm. With small touches of the chisel-tipped charcoal, he added suggestions of their figures to his landscape. Short strokes on the pond's surface suggested the sun glimmering from the choppy water.
The boy sighed and ignored the first few repetitions of the call, but when it came nearer, he closed the sketchbook and tucked the charcoal into the little custom pouch in its spine. Leaping down from the wall, he trotted around the ornamental shrubbery.
Her fingers latched around his arm. Twelve and gangly, Ronon was already nearly a head taller, but she dragged him along without breaking a sweat. Her eyes took in the sketchbook; she said nothing, but Ronon fought against the urge to hide it behind his back.
She didn't speak until they'd left the park behind, heading into the maze of streets of the Old City, towards home. Streetcars rattled past, drawn by slow-moving, many-horned drayhorses. Slowing to a fast walk, his mother wove her way expertly through the foot traffic. "Your father is home," she said at last, in a clipped voice.
"A package came for you today, from the capital. Your father signed for it."
Ronon's stomach fell straight to his boots. "Okay," he said, numb. He hadn't expected the bureaucracy to move nearly that quickly; he'd planned it to come next month, while his father was on Ring deployment.
"Ronon-nee, what were you thinking?"
"I don't know," he said, because really, he didn't. As a minor child, he'd need both parents' signatures, and he knew there was a lot more involved besides. His mother might be convinced, over time. His father ... never.
"I mean, think of your family! Think of your responsibilities to the city!"
They turned into the yard of the Dex house -- a small, flat-roofed structure, with a vegetable garden out front. Little sister Temmit, kneeling and weeding among the kaft tubers, gave him a cheerful wave. Ronon didn't have the heart to wave back.
"Think of your sister!" his mother hissed, too low for Temmit to hear, as she dragged him into the house. "Besides the fact that the necessary fees and bribes may bankrupt us, don't you know that we'll owe one child to the priesthood as a tithe to the Ancestors?"
"They don't still do that," Ronon protested, feeling sick. He'd always thought it was just a rumor; he'd read the legal codes at the library, cover to cover, and there was nothing in there about appeasing the Ancestors by turning over a lastborn child to the priests, no matter what Merron Shand at school told him.
His mother had her mouth open to speak, but just then his father straightened up from the chair in front of the fireplace, the top of his head nearly brushing the ceiling. All Satedans were tall by the standards of other worlds, but the Dexes doubly so. "Ronon," his father rumbled, ominously.
"Sir." Ronon straightened his back and clasped his hands behind him, clutching the sketchbook in a tight sweaty grip.
His father's arm swept an arc through the air, flinging a fat wad of forms to the floor. "What's the meaning of this? You're twelve years old. You'll be joining the Academy in the fall, like all your ancestors before you."
Ronon's back stiffened yet further. His peers at school thought him a coward, because he was soft-spoken and wouldn't use his bigger size against them; he'd heard them talking. But he wasn't afraid of anything, not even of his father. "No, sir. I want to apprentice to the Artisan Guild in the fall, sir."
His father snorted. "You're Sky Moiety, boy; you were born to Sky, and Sky you'll remain. The Ancestors take this absurd modern idea that filling out a form can change what you're born to." He crossed the room in three great strides, and gave a hard yank to Ronon's short hair. "You can't change your forefathers with a form and some fees; they're in your blood and bone. What do you have to say to that?"
Ronon cleared his throat, tilted his head to look his father in the eyes. "I want to be an artisan, sir. I don't want to be a soldier. The codes say that --"
"Ancestors take the bloody codes!" his father roared. "You haven't a choice! You were born a soldier; you'll take on your duty just the same as every other Sky-born boy in this city."
"You can change it, sir," Ronon pressed on doggedly. "Merron Shand, in my year at school -- he was born to Water, sir, but he renounced it and his parents filed the paperwork for Sky last year. He always wanted to be a soldier. He'll be in the Academy, come fall."
"Blasphemy! Heresy!" Sherren Dex's hand drew back, and for an instant, Ronon thought his father might strike him, something that hadn't happened since he was a small child. Instead, the fist lowered; his father threw his arms in the air and stalked off. "See if you can reason with the boy, Keth. He's beyond sense."
His mother took his arm cautiously, and, playing on a mother's intimate knowledge of her son: "If you join the Water Moiety, Ronon, you won't be able to legally marry Melena."
The boy's lips pressed together and firmed. "I know. We've talked about it. We're okay with that."
"Your father won't allow this, Ronon-nee. And we can't afford the transfer fees, not at all."
"I'll get a job and pay them."
"Ronon ..." Her eyes were sincere; he didn't want to meet them. "You can't, don't you understand? We simply can't allow it, and it isn't just a matter of your father's religious convictions. Sateda doesn't need artists and historians and philosophers right now; it needs soldiers."
Words seethed in him, but he'd never been good with words; they came out jumbled up and wrong. Trembling with the effort of self-control, he pushed away from his mother, resisting her sympathetic touch. He could feel the iron walls of the future slamming shut around him, locking him away from his art into a lifetime of servitude to the state, just like his father.
You don't care, he wanted to say. You don't understand. His mother was Water Moiety, of course; how could she not understand? She'd apprenticed to the Historians' Guild ... but she'd left to raise her children; it wasn't important to her.
Shivering with pent-up rage, he stormed upstairs, fingers so tight on the sketchbook that he left imprints in its leather binding. In the room he shared with Temmit, he flung it against the wall and watched it fall to the floor, open, the pages bent and smudged.
It didn't matter. It wasn't important. Not to his parents -- and not, he vowed, to himself, either.
So they'd won. He was twelve, still a minor; he didn't have a choice, after all. They wanted him to be a soldier, did they? He'd be the best damn soldier this world had ever seen.
Author's Note: Yes, this is in continuity with the doodles in the scrapbook in Pictures for Jeannie. I just LOVE the idea of Ronon as a slightly closeted artist.